The decline in the value of the Canadian dollar is expected to have an adverse effect upon next season’s NHL salary cap.
During the All-Star weekend, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman noted his original projection of a $73 million salary cap for 2015-16 was based on the value of the Canadian dollar being at .88 cents USD in early-December. Bettman acknowledged the plunge of the “loonie” since then, dropping to nearly .80 cents USD by late-January.
The commissioner claims it won’t have much effect upon the cap. He suggested at .80 cents USD the NHL salary cap would come in at $71.7 million, provided the NHLPA also exercises its annual five-percent escalator clause.
Bettman didn’t mention what the cap could be if the Canadian dollar keeps plunging. The Globe and Mail reports Goldman Sachs estimates the “loonie” could reach .76 cents over its 12-month forecast, speculating it could plummet as low as .71 cents by 2017.
A further decline in the Canadian dollar could push that salary cap estimate for 2015-16 down toward $71 million, only $2 million above the current ceiling of $69 million. And if the NHLPA votes against enacting the five-percent escalator, the cap could actually drop for only the second time in league history, possibly falling to under $68 million.
Regardless if it’s $68 million or $71 million, several NHL clubs will have limited cap space this summer. The Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle recently speculated that could result in what he calls a “vulture strategy”, in which several teams with lots of cap space could attempt to take advantage of distressed clubs.
Mirtle points out that strategy was successfully employed before this season began by the New York Islanders. Back in October, they acquired defenseman Johnny Boychuk from the Boston Bruins and blueliner Nick Leddy from the Chicago Blackhawks. Boychuk and Leddy stabilized the Islanders defense, playing key roles in the club’s surprisingly strong performance this season.
The Bruins and Blackhawks were forced to move Boychuk and Leddy in order to become cap compliant for this season. The cost to the Islanders was minimal. Two second-round picks and a conditional third to Boston for Boychuk; minor-league defenseman TJ Brennan, prospect Ville Pokka and the rights to goalie Anders Nilsson to Chicago for Reddy.
If both clubs weren’t cap-strapped you can bet the asking price for Boychuk and Leddy would’ve been much higher. Then again, if both clubs weren’t pressed for cap space they wouldn’t have parted with those players in the first place.
By Mirtle’s estimation, a low cap ceiling can hurt big-market teams whilst benefiting those resting nearer the salary cap floor, which is currently $51 million.
Expect the Bruins and Blackhawks to be targeted again this summer. The Bruins currently have over $51 million in cap payroll for 2015-16, with notables like Dougie Hamilton, Carl Soderberg, Torey Krug, Reilly Smith, Adam McQuaid, Dan Paille and Gregory Campbell to re-sign or replace.
The Blackhawks have it worse, with over $64 million already invested in their roster for 2015-16 and restricted free agents Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger to re-sign, as well as pending UFAs Brad Richards and Johnny Oduya to replace or re-sign. They must also find cap space to re-sign blueline stalwart Brent Seabrook, who’s eligible for UFA status in 2016. Seabrook is currently earning $5.8 million and in line for a significant raise, perhaps over $8 million annually.
Another team in cap hell this summer is the Philadelphia Flyers, saddled with useless contracts (hello there, Vincent Lecavalier and Andrew MacDonald) they can’t give away and over $67 million already tied up in next season’s payroll. Yes, they’ll get $4.9 million of cap relief when Chris Pronger once again is placed on LTIR, but they’ll still have limited cap space to upgrade their defense.
Even the Flyers rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, will feel the pinch. They’ve got over $54 million tied up in their 2015-16 payroll and have several key players to re-sign, notably veteran blueliners Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings also face serious cap concerns. They must re-sign key players like Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson and Justin Williams, as well as ensure sufficient cap room to re-sign Anze Kopitar (eligible for UFA status in 2016) to the $10 million per season deal he’s likely to seek.
As for the potential vultures, they could include the Buffalo Sabres ($35.8 million invested in their 2015-16 cap payroll), Nashville Predators ($36.5 million), Arizona Coyotes ($37.4 million), Calgary Flames (just over $46 million), New Jersey Devils ($46.3 million), Edmonton Oilers ($46.7 million), Anaheim Ducks ($47.8 million), Washington Capitals ($48.75 million), Florida Panthers ($48.9 million), San Jose Sharks (just over $49 million), Dallas Stars ($50.3 million) and even the Islanders again ($44.5 million).
Obviously not all of the aforementioned clubs will adopt a predatory strategy, as each has different roster needs to address and critical players of their own to re-sign. Some will be under self-imposed cap ceilings and won’t want to rise too high over the cap minimum. The Oilers and Flames will also feel the effects of the declining Canadian dollar. Both are rebuilding, however, so they could try to pry one or two skilled players away from teams with limited cap space.
It wouldn’t be shocking if half-a-dozen of the aforementioned teams attempt to take advantage of their maxed-out brethren, plundering their rosters for a skilled player or two. While there’s not a lot of quality talent available in this summer’s UFA market, there could be considerable offseason trade activity not seen since the cap was implemented in the summer of 2005.